(By Kim Ryan) Back in September the Fort Myers Beach town council took steps to draft an ordinance prohibiting the sale of the yellow belly slider turtle now being sold by at least one business on the beach. This week town attorney John Herin said the ordinance is off the table after an exchange of e-mails he had with FWC.
Herin told the council that FWC’s response to the proposed ordinance was that, according to the Florida Constitution, the state trumped the town on the sale of wildlife so the town had no jurisdiction.
Herin then surprised FWC attorney Bridget McDonnell by telling her about a federal law where, in 1975, the FDA banned the sale of turtles less than 4 inches long because of human health concerns. McDonnell was unaware of that law.
So who should the general public go to if they suspect a violation? FWC says call the Wildlife Alert Reward Program at 888-404-FWCC (3922). (https://myfwc.com/contact/wildlife-alert/)
At the town council meeting this week council member Bill Veach said he was concerned about the turtle sales. “People who live around freshwater ponds on the island have seen quite a few of them in the water.” Veach pointed out that the owner of the Teeki Hut, where the turtles are being sold, was at the recent Marine Resources Task Force meeting and was “open to educating” customers about the turtles and how to care for them. Veach went on to say “right now, he has a legal right to sell them, although he says “there’s a moral right that’s lacking in this.”
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros questioned why a federal law prohibiting the sale of the turtles wouldn’t trump the state law allowing the sale. “If the state is going to preempt us then let’s use a preemption against them.”
Hosafros suggested contacting the feds to let them know this permit has been granted which is, in the town’s opinion, a violation of federal law. Herin said he’d look into it.
An internal town e-mail from Herin also indicated he wants the town to step away from this problem. “Let’s use this as an opportunity to distance ourselves as far as possible from this issue in light of the fact that FWC has stated we are preempted and have no authority or jurisdiction to do anything about it.”